The National Civic League is proud to announce the winner of this year’s Health Equity Award: Dr. Tsu-Yin Wu, director of the Eastern Michigan University Center for Health Disparities Innovation and Studies (CHDIS). The Health Equity Award is presented each year by the National Civic League in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to recognize individuals who are leveraging civic engagement to improve health outcomes for those most impacted by health disparities. Click here for more information on the award.
As a nurse and Asian American, Dr. Tsu-Yin Wu has first-hand knowledge of the health challenges many Asian and Asian Americans encounter. During her 20-year career serving these communities, Dr. Wu has observed complex barriers to good health including cultural, language, systematic barriers to accessing healthcare and preventive services, and several scenarios where Asian Americans are the victims of “broken” health systems. In order to address these challenges, she has worked to change the way the traditional health system delivers care to vulnerable populations who have limited access, health literacy, language, and cultural barriers. She has dedicated her career to improving the health of Asian Americans and Asians through multifactorial approaches that are always shaped by community input.
Dr. Wu is the director of the Eastern Michigan University Center for Health Disparities Innovation and Studies (CHDIS), as well as a respected researcher, professor, and community advocate. At CHDIS, she leads a team of faculty and staff who are creating interdisciplinary interventions that have bridged the gaps in various cancers, chronic diseases, mental health, and lead poisoning prevention for Asian Americans and Asians. She and her team use policy, systems, and environmental approaches to implement effective culturally-tailored programs that promote health and well-being among this population. These interventions have increased knowledge among underserved Asian Americans with low health literacy on important health issues related to chronic diseases and cancer screening.
In her work, Dr. Wu has strengthened community clinical linkages with community engagement and expanded bilingual navigator services to link health systems and the public health department. Since the beginning of the Affordable Care Act, her team of bilingual navigators has assisted several thousand Asian Americans in obtaining quality healthcare and health services including cancer screening and preventive health programs. For many of these individuals, this was the first time they became insured and were able to get treatment for kidney dialysis and medications to treat their diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases.
Dr. Wu has worked to share the stories of Asian Americans’ experience with the current healthcare system; including a South Asian woman in her 40’s diagnosed with stage III breast cancer who could have had a better prognosis if she had annual mammography screening and was diagnosed at an earlier stage. Many underserved Asian Americans do not have regular health screenings. Another example includes a Hmong woman who got her first blood sugar reading at a health fair that Dr. Wu’s program organized. The result was three times higher than what is considered healthy. This woman had never been tested for diabetes but was aware of such a condition. Dr. Wu immediately knew the risk and prompted the female client to be checked, diagnosed, and treated. When Dr. Wu went to meet with top officials at the state public health department to share what underserved Asian communities were experiencing and advocate for funding support, she was told that there are more urgent priorities that need state funding and there was no existing evidence or data to back it up.
Since then, Dr. Wu has tirelessly worked to provide such evidence and data, and she has an outstanding record of publications in peer-reviewed journals using empirical scientific data to tell the stories about underserved Asian communities. The statistics and findings in her research have revealed health disparities that are pervasive in Asian American communities. There is a paucity of research on health outcomes among Asian Americans and even more scarcity investigating vulnerable groups such as refugee Asian Americans. One of her studies examined the effects of refugee status on cancer screenings among Asian Americans. The unique study findings showed that even after controlling for other factors, Asian American refugees still were less likely to participate in cancer screenings compared to other non-refugee Asian Americans. One of Dr. Wu’s recent publications illustrate ongoing challenges facing Asian American communities with respect to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. Unlike what has been found for other ethnic groups, her study results showed that while healthcare coverage increased for Asian Americans, utilization of preventative services did not change significantly from before to after the Affordable Care Act, nor did health outcomes.
As a community advocate, Dr. Wu has built the evidence base and educated stakeholders (public health authorities, legislators, health care professionals) about health disparities to build a culture of health. Her study findings have provided much needed support for the unique challenges that Asian American populations face and her team implements best practices for culturally sensitive health care programs that promote Asian-Americans’ health and well-being. Dr. Wu ensures their voices are heard and understood by health authorities, legislators, and scientific societies.
Dr. Wu has not only transformed health care among Asian Americans in the United States but also throughout the world. She has successfully replicated and expanded her research in other global communities including China, Philippines, and Taiwan. The breast cancer program increased breast health awareness and resulted in early detection of breast cancer in underserved areas of China and Taiwan. As a direct result of this international program, more than 120,000 women received breast cancer screening. For many women, this was the first time in their life that they received breast cancer screening. Internationally, researchers have tested her interventions in their own countries, laying the foundation for changing cancer mortality worldwide. As a result of her expertise, Dr. Wu improves health outcomes among Asian Americans in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Dr. Wu was presented with the RWJF-NCL Health Equity Award during the 2020 All-America City Awards; additionally, Dr. Wu will be receiving a $3,000 cash prize and will be recognized in a ceremony at a later date by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Listen to Dr. Wu's acceptance speech.